Today is the 152nd Anniversary of the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, the engagement that effectively tore the heart out of the Army of Tennessee. In honor of the hundreds of Mississippians killed or wounded in the fight, I would like to share this article about Jesse Rice, a private in the “Live Oak Rifles,” Company A, 3rd Mississippi Infantry. Private Rice fought and was captured at Franklin, afterwards spending the remainder of the war in a Union prison. Amidst the horror he had witnessed at Franklin, Rice also saw an act of bravery so compelling that years later he was moved to have his memory of the event recorded by the clerk of the Jackson County circuit court. The following account was published in The Jackson Daily News, February 5, 1912:
THREW DIRT INTO EYES OF FEDERAL SOLDIER
LIEUT. THOMPSON ESCAPED DEATH IN NOVEL WAY
Affidavit of Mississippian Brings to Light Interesting Incident of Battle of Franklin – Copy Sent Reunion committee
Macon, Ga., Feb. 5 – A copy of a deposition from Jackson County, Mississippi, to the reunion executive committee, brings up an interesting incident of the battle of Franklin, which is directly connected with the gory and fierce fighting which was waged around the historic old cotton gin in the Tennessee town. It was at this gin that the gallant and chivalric Gen. Adams went down; it was from the region of this gin that the renowned Gen. John C. Brown of Tennessee was carried, sorely wounded, to the rear, and it was near this gin that the rash “Pat” Cleburne met his death while storming the breastworks of the federal forces. The federal soldier mentioned in this deposition was killed near the gin in the conflict at late eve.
The deposition follows:
“State of Mississippi, Jackson County.
Personally appeared before me, a clerk of the circuit court of said county, Jesse W. Rice, who being duly sworn according to law, deposes and says:
That he was a private in the ranks of Company A, Third Mississippi Regiment Volunteers.
Featherston’s Brigade, and Loring’s Division, Stuart’s Corps of the Confederate army, and that he, with his company, was engaged in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, on the 30th day of November, 1864, and that he [was] in the charge on the last breastworks of the enemy’s line, arrived at the point directly at the old cotton gin house which stood inside of the enemy’s line and that the reserves of the enemy came on the run and gained possession of the ditch inside of the line, or breastworks, and he saw one of the federal soldiers there making repeated attempts to shoot and kill his lieutenant, S.R. Thompson, and that the said lieutenant repeatedly prevented him in his aim by throwing dirt in his eyes, at or near the old gin house on the day and the date above mentioned.
Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 21st day of March, 1904
Fred Taylor, Clerk Circuit Court.”
This incident deserves to rank along with Ney’s use of ammonia at the battle of Ligny, Togo’s mirrors in the glaring sunlight of the Russian harbors and the Moro custom of painting their costumes the color of Philippine clay.
Mr. Rice, who vouches for the authenticity of this incident, will be one of the visitors to the Confederate reunion to be held in Macon May 7.
Editor’s Note: Jesse W. Rice enlisted in the Live Oak Rifles on September 20, 1861, along with his brother Bryant C. Rice. The brothers were both captured at the Battle of Franklin, and eventually sent to Camp Douglas prisoner of war camp. Bryant died on April 16, 1865 of pneumonia, but his brother Rice survived and was released from captivity at the end of the war. He died on February 26, 1905, in Jackson County, Mississippi, and is buried in Havens-Fletcher Cemetery at Vancleave.